Today I sat down to write for The Foster Dads, fully knowing that recently I’ve been far less consistent than I should be if I want to maintain a steady readership. As I scrolled through my list of potential article topics, I realized that I couldn’t write about any of them.
It’s not that I suddenly stopped believing in the points I would make in those articles. It’s not that I forgot all the things I know are true about raising kids from traumatic backgrounds. In fact, I’m sure that right now I could write a pretty good article about how to manage resentment toward a relentlessly misbehaving child.
The problem is, it wouldn’t be genuine. I don’t feel like I can speak to anyone else who’s stuck in a rut because I’m stuck in my own.
Right now I’m exhausted, worn down, and bitter. Exhausted by the day-to-day effort it takes to raise a kid with an extensive trauma history. Worn down by all the outbursts and meltdowns and tantrums. Bitter that this good deed I believed I was doing by adopting a teenager makes me feel so exhausted and worn down.
I want to disengage. I want to spend more time in my room reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching documentaries that have nothing to do with foster care, adoption, trauma, or parenting. I want car rides to be quiet. I want family nights to all be movie nights, and for bedtime to be early.
Disengagement is so much easier than engagement, but I know it isn’t good for anyone. It makes me a bad husband. It makes me a bad dad. It makes me bad at taking care of myself. And yet, the temptation to disengage is strong….
Where I live, we’ve gotten so much snow this winter. We’ll have one storm dump a bunch of snow on us, and then just as that snow starts to melt, the Weather Channel promises another winter weather event.
I hate snow all the time, but now that spring training baseball has started, the continued snowfall feels like an egregious travesty. Any daytime temperatures below fifty degrees are, in essence, a violation of the Geneva Convention.
In response to this, several of my Facebook friends have recently posted this quote: “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.”
Along with snow, I hate cheesy shit like that. But much to my chagrin, that quote resonated with me regardless, both as a hater of snow and as an exhausted, worn down, bitter father. Sometimes those made-for-Pinterest posts land like a meat cleaver in the neck.
I can rage about the snow as much as I want, but that won’t stop more snow from falling. If a snowstorm’s going to hit, a snowstorm’s going to hit. It’s up to me, then, to choose whether I’m going to be a relaxed, cool dude in the midst of the snow, or an enraged lunatic.
There are so many reasons to disengage. I could (and probably do) complain about my current situation for hours. However, like raging against the snow, disengaging and complaining won’t do anything to help my situation. If anything, it will make my experience of it worse.
There are also so many reasons to engage. I could (and probably should) express gratitude for my current situation for hours. Engagement and gratitude may not necessarily help my situation, but I’m certain that they will improve my experience of it.
So if this is really true, why is it so much easier to choose disengagement over engagement?
I don’t have an answer to that. But I do think that our tendency toward either engagement or disengagement has a lot to do with our perspective and the things we give our attention to.
Last week, after a very rough night with our son, my wife and I were discussing the way people present their lives so perfectly on Facebook and how deflating that is for us to see when we’re in the midst of struggle like we were that evening.
But we also pointed out that if we were constantly seeing Facebook posts from Syrian refugees, then our perception of our situation would likely be so much different. After all, things might be tough at home right now, but at least we’re not fleeing a horrendous civil war.
It’s strange that something as minor as what we focus our attention on can have such a profound effect on the way we experience our lives. The shift from “my life isn’t as good as it could be” to “my life is way better than it could be” can have drastic ramifications.
It all comes down to a choice. If I’m being honest, it’s a choice I’m struggling to make right now. I don’t know why, but choosing to see the positives and be grateful feels prickly, like petting a porcupine. Wallowing in all the reasons I could feel sorry for myself feels way more comfortable.
If you’re feeling this way, I don’t have great words of wisdom. All I can say is that I feel you, and I promise to stay engaged and change my perspective if you do too.
When it comes down to it, every kid–even the naughty one who makes us want to tear our hair out–deserves parents who will choose gratitude, who will choose to take joy in the “snow” of raising kids with trauma histories, who will choose to engage rather than disengage.
There are all sorts of things I want for my son, most of which I can’t control. What I can control is the kind of dad he has. I want him to have an engaged dad who believes the best about him and who loves him no matter what.
Engagement and perspective-shift are hard right now, but with the right motivation they’re not impossible. Even as I sit here feeling exhausted, worn down, and bitter, there’s no better motivation than the desire to provide my son with the dad he deserves. It won’t be easy, but I choose to make that the object of my attention.